Targus HandCam converts a PDA into a digital camera, as well as an
.AVI movie recorder. Compatible with a Handspring Visor, Visor Deluxe,
Prism, Edge, Neo or Pro; the HandCam slides into the Springboard slot,
exposing only the adjustable camera so that it appears perched atop the
PDA. Installing the HandCam in its accompanying USB adaptor allows it to
become a PC camera or a streaming Web cam as well.
The product must be initially installed in a Windows 98/ME/2000
environment, on a Pentium PC or higher, with a CD-ROM drive, 160 MBs of
free space, and a minimum 64 MB of RAM. As mentioned above, the
Targus HandCam is compatible with the Handspring Visor line of PDAs. For
use as a Web cam, a PC/laptop must have a USB port.
I was taking pictures and recording footage with the HandCam inside
of 10 minutes. The installation CD contains the Targus HandCam Suite,
which includes: the PDA/PC HandCam device driver, TWAIN driver, video
capture, still photo capture, and digital photo album software. Other
optional software includes ArcSoft Photo Impressions v 3.0 (a photo
editing and printing program) and a version of NetMeeting for the
Windows 98 OS. After a reboot, I synchronized the handheld and installed
the camera unit into my Prism's expansion slot. Almost immediately, the
PDA's screen was transformed into the camera's full-color display.
Installation for the PC/Web cam requires removing the camera from the
Handspring's expansion slot and attaching it to the (included) USB
adaptor. After inserting the USB adaptor into the free USB port on my
PC, Windows 2000's plug-and-play detection took care of the rest. The
comes with an attachable clip which can be opened wide enough to
securely grip a laptop's monitor; this makes it easy to position and
camera for use.
The HandCam utilizes the Visor's Springboard interface, has 2 MB of
on-board memory, and comes standard with a self-timing feature. It is
both image-capture and video-capture ready. The camera has an adjustable
lens, records video at 8 frames per second, and can capture images at
either 640 x 480 (130 KB) or 160 x 120 (38 KB).
To use the camera, power on your PDA and choose the HandCam icon from
the main menu. When the application opens, a streaming video image
appears on the PDA along with a small toolbar at the bottom portion of
the screen. The toolbar allows users to choose whether they'd like to
capture .AVI movie footage, take digital pictures, or view existing
pictures/footage through the HandCam GUI.
Take A Snapshot
Before actually taking a picture, several options must be selected to
ensure the pictures are formatted to the user's specification. The
digital camera can take both full-size and Palm-size pictures. The
demo Visor PDA I used for testing had about 7 MB of free memory on it.
This allowed for about 79 full-size, or 186 Palm-size pictures. Beyond
this, you'll have to either copy some files over to the HandCam's
on-board memory or delete some files to free up more space. The camera
lens will also need to be focused for optimal quality depending upon the
The PDA screen acts as the camera's "view
finder." Because of the lens' range of motion, users will most likely
position it on the same plane as the PDA's screen. I found that holding
the PDA at about chest level (while looking at the screen), with the
lens pointing straight ahead, parallel to the floor, was the best way to
take snap shots and shoot video footage. Once the object is in focus,
pressing the top scroll button, or the "Up" button, will snap the picture. The HandCam then issues an
"Hold Still" prompt, followed by a beep approximately one
second after the prompt is displayed, signaling that the picture is
ready to be saved.
Tapping on the Thumbnails icon allows a user to view thumbnails of
existing video and snapshots (Figure 1). Choosing one of
the thumbnails allows the user to access additional options. The tool bar at
the bottom of the GUI (Figure 2) provides users with the means to access
specifics about the file, such as pixel count, type, size etc. Using
the Details icon, a user can transfer picture files from the handheld's
internal memory to the 2 MB, on-board HandCam memory. When done, this
option frees up internal memory without deleting valuable files,
allotting more media storage space. Files can also be beamed to other
handhelds or deleted using this toolbar.
Figure 1. Thumbnails.
Figure 2. Movie toolbar.
Capturing Video Footage
The HandCam is capable of capturing video footage that is saved in the .AVI
file format. Capturing video works fundamentally the same way as
capturing still photos. Though you don't have the option to choose
different file sizes, it's still necessary to focus the lens and start
the video capture by pressing the "Up" button on the Visor's
dashboard. Before starting to capture video, the display informs users
how much time they've got to record (this varies depending upon how much
free memory the PDA contains), but regrettably does not count down once
video is rolling; this accounts for some of my
abrupt video clip endings. My demo unit made available all the Visor's
free memory to capture video. With approximately 7.2 MB of free space, I
was able to capture an .AVI file of equivalent size, which
translates into about 26 seconds of recording time.
I recommend using a little forethought before beginning to shoot a
video sequence, as anything but slow and steady pans will result in an
undistinguishable blur. After capturing some video, the interface
provides the option to save and change the name of the file from the
appended time and date, which serves as the default file name.
Using The HandCam On A PC
This requires the USB adaptor, which is included in the purchase price
of the HandCam.
The HandCam's GUI allows users to utilize the same type of
functionality it provides on a handheld computer: the ability to take
snap shots and record video. The GUI also provides some additional
functionality such as a feature that allows you to create a video voice
mail, by creating an executable file containing the video decoder, should the
intended party not have the means to decode an .AVI file. The GUI also
allows access to camera settings for tuning video settings, and adjusting
file formats and mail preferences. The GUI supports access to stored
photos and photo albums, which can be manipulated using the bundled
ArcSoft Photo software. The HandCam is compatible with NetMeeting and
therefore, can be used for video conferencing or as a Web cam.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
If you look at the product shot at the top of this article for
perspective, note the relationship between the lens position and the PDA
screen. The lens' range of motion seems limiting, as it prevents the most practical and effective way to operate
the device (in my opinion).
For example, if I were holding the PDA so the screen and the
camera lens are both facing me, I could rotate the lens backward about 100-110
degrees, so that it points at objects in front of me. I then must
lower the PDA parallel to the ground so I can see what I'm aiming at on
the PDA's screen; this positioning means the Visor's screen is difficult
to see due to the reflection of overhead lights or direct
sunlight. Often, I found myself shielding the screen from
direct light with one hand, while holding the PDA and snapping the photo
the other hand. Often, however, I couldn't clearly see the object in
the shot at all, and I had to just hope the picture or video footage
would be in perspective.
I think this problem can be avoided using one of two
possible alternatives: either add a physical view finder to the device,
similar to the type used on most cameras; or re-engineer the lens to
extend its range of motion to 180 degrees. The latter would still allow
the screen to be used as the view finder, however it could be held a 90 degree
angle, perpendicular to the ground, making it much less susceptible to direct
One other issue I thought should be corrected was the fact that I
couldn't copy video footage to the 2 MB on-board memory of the camera.
Yes, even when the file was smaller than 2 MB.
Though this is more of a wish than anything else, it would have been
really useful to be able to put the Visor in its cradle (with the HandCam
attached) and use the HandCam via the PC using the HotSync cradle's USB
connection. This would eliminate having to remove the HotSync cradle's
USB connection from your computer and plug in the HandCam's USB cable
each time you want to use the HandCam on your PC (if you only have one
free USB port, as I did).
Though its design is a bit limited for my taste, I was able
to take many quality digital pictures and videos using the Targus
HandCam. At 640 x 480, the digital picture resolution isn't of high
quality, however, unless you're using the images for professional graphics it was certainly acceptable.
While the HandCam won't be used in the professional photography arena any time soon,
some practical business applications for the HandCam. In the automobile
insurance field, for example, it may provide a useful tool for a claims
or fraud investigator.
If you've already got a Handspring Visor, the
HandCam is a good value, providing not only the functionality of a
digital camera, but an .AVI movie recorder and PC camera or Web cam as
Michael Gallo is a technology editor for TMC
Labs, and a regular contributor to Planet PDA. He welcomes your
comments on this article in our Planet